1,685. That’s the number of people in B.C. pre-trial facilities.
Shockingly, it’s also 60% of B.C.’s inmate population.
That’s the result of an investigation by the Georgia Straight’s Travis Lupick, who joined Drex Live guest host Shane Foxman tonight to break the numbers down.
Lupick says the number is even more eyebrow raising if you consider that it’s just a snapshot – that is, people in pre-trial at this particular moment.
According to statistics he gathered from B.C. Corrections, the number of inmates held in facilities on remand through the last fiscal year was 12,964.
On the margins
Lupick says in some cases, there are very good reasons why these people are denied bail – a violent history for example, as in the case of one inmate he spoke with.
But he says at the same time, they are also more likely to be people with mental health or addiction problems who don’t know how to navigate the legal system, or people with financial problems thanks to a 36% cut in provincial money for legal aid.
He says aboriginal people, already over represented in the prison system, also make up 31% of the pre-trial population.
Lupick says being on the margins like this also makes addressing the issue a challenge.
“It is very difficult for politicians to take on the case of inmates. There’s not a lot of sympathy among their constituents for inmates. And god forbid if somebody gets hurt while they are on bail, then you can go and blame that politician.”
Lupick says while it is politically unpalatable to take on these inmates cases there are clear problems. For one, none of them have been convicted of anything.
“When you’re talking about that many you have to figure there’s a reasonable percentage that are being found innocent or having charges stayed or who knows.”
And he says even in the case of guilty people – while they’re being held in pretrial, they aren’t being rehabilitated.
“They lack things like alcohol counselling, proper job programs, proper rehabilitation programs. Because these inmates are only supposed to be in there for a very short time awaiting trial. But that’s not what’s actually happening.”
Lupick says there’s also the financial question. Keeping people in jail before trial costs the B.C. government about $30 million a year.
So how to deal with the backlog?
Lupick says there’s really only one way – more money.
He says the province needs to spend to make sure judges are able to hear cases in a timely manner. And he says there’s a responsibility to inmates too.
“B.C. has made appalling cuts to legal aid in recent years, restore that money for legal aid, and let people have the lawyers they need to properly argue their cases and defend themselves.”